Today we take a look at expensive cables, and budget cables to see if there is any real difference. At the same time, we give our personal recommendations for the best guitar cables.
Are Expensive Guitar Cables Worth It?
There is a lot that can easily fit into the “myth” section of guitar sorcery. Some people swear by a certain set of tubes, or the swear by a certain brand of pickups. Eric Johnson was said to be able to tell what brand of battery was in his guitar pedals. I respect Eric a lot, but come on bro.
This sort of tribalism has been a part of playing guitar for over 20 years, since internet forums became the #1 advice column. Opinions converge, and you get advice on forums that are just echoes of what someone else said.
Before the onslaught of guitar forums (yes I am old enough to remember a time before the internet) you got your guitar advice from other guitarists. Or maybe you asked the local guitar tech. Most sources would yield different answers. But it wasn’t until the internet, that I saw people argue over what is “better” in a universal way.
Like apparently the only way to play metal these days is with a 5150 and vintage Celestion speakers. And don’t use EMG pickups! These online arguments point people in the wrong direction doing this, and homogenizes the sound of so many artists.
One of these many arguments, or points of contention, come from guitar cables. There are all kinds of expensive guitar cables out there, but then there are also people who solder together their own cables to use on stage. Which one is better?
The argument FOR expensive guitar cables:
- They last longer/ better made
- Usually has a lifetime warranty
- They affect your sound for the better
- You have better tone
So what’s the answer? Are expensive guitar cables better? We are going to answer this question first, before I get to my top 5 recommendations. You’re probably no stranger to how our Top 5 lists work, and this one is no different.
I did a small experiment, to test the idea. I bought a Lava Cable LCHL20 Van den Hul 20 FT cable for $299.00.
You read that correctly. This is a $300 guitar cable. The Lave Cable is supposed to be designed to be completely noise free, with no electromagnetic interference. Lifetime Warranty. This is the best of the best, and you can bet your money that I promptly returned it after the test.
I am always excited to being you dear readers a new article, but not $300 worth of an article. I’m not completely insane… yet.
The “Comparison Cable” is my go-to that I use every day. It is the store brand for Guitar Center and it cost $16.99. It does not have any broad claims behind it. This is your basic cable. It’s not even close to being an expensive guitar cable.
I have a lot of cables in my home studio. If I replaced them all with expensive guitar cables, then I would be about $3800 in debt. That seems crazy to me. But what matters is I have both cables right now, and I can do my best to show you a semi-scientific analysis.
Are Expensive Guitar Cables Worth It? The Analysis…
So I played with both cables, through an amp, for about an hour or so. I noticed no difference. The “Control Guitar” is my Schecter SLS Elite, outfitted with Fishman Fluence Pickups, and no special mods. The active pickups are balanced, and that’s why I chose this guitar.
The Amp, My Blackstar HT-40, was set to 12 O’ Clock on every dial. If there is any difference in tone with expensive guitar cables, it should be apparent with all the dials straight in the middle of the frequency levels. These settings are used for the entire test. No mods to the amp, either.
Not to brag, but I have a pretty good ear for frequency. I have mixed and mastered albums for 20 years. I can usually tell many things about a recording or performance. Whether it’s auto-tuned, any quick edits that were used, snapped to grid, digital, tape… whatever.
Playing directly through the amp in the room, I noticed almost no difference between the two cables. I used the same settings for both cables on my Blackstar HT-40 Tube amp. If anything, the expensive guitar cable made by lava Cables, was slightly more mid-range heavy. But the difference was so slight, that I needed to switch back and forth several times.
Now, onto the second test. I then plugged my Blackstar amp directly into my DAW. You can see no plugins were used. I recorded the same riff, on two different tracks to a metronome. The results were… well, just look at the waveforms:
They are almost identical. The expensive guitar cable by Lava, is the top track. The budget store brand cable is the second track. You can zoom in and look closer, and see that these are very much the same. The only noticeable difference is that I was a few milliseconds off between the two tracks. Hey, I’m human.
I noticed no difference in volume, or noise interference. Either while playing, or complete silence.
But I broke down the meta-data of each track also. The expensive guitar cables waveform DID have a little more treble, and midrange in the track, compared to the budget guitar cable. But it was negligible when I looked at the EQ peaks. Nothing the human ear could pick up, in my opinion. In fact, playing the tracks at the same time made the recording sound out of phase.
The fact that it was out of phase means that the frequencies were too close to each other, and the two tracks were fighting for the same headroom. This would not happen, if the tracks were different in an apparent way. I got the out of phase sound no matter what, until I adjusted the EQ settings with a parametric slider.
Are Expensive Guitar Cables Worth it? Not In My Experience…
So there you go. My attempt at being as scientific as possible. I think I gave the expensive guitar cables the benefit of the doubt. I tried them out before this test, and I was never happy with the amount of money I spent. I’ve always felt a little slighted by the more expensive guitar cables.
Are expensive guitar cables made with better materials? Absolutely! Some use gold, silver, and other components that make a huge difference in build quality. The expensive guitar cables will probably last a long time, and if they don’t, most have a lifetime warranty.
But the affordable cables work just as well. I have a relatively cheap cable that I have used for over a decade and it still works great. The fail point of cheap cables is usually the input jack, which just needs a couple of drops of solder to get working again. I have repaired many cables this way. I’m a musician. I don’t exactly have a mountain of cash.
If you use Mogami, or Lava cables… that’s fine! Maybe you like to have the finer things in life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it changes the tone in any big way.
So which cables do I use or recommend? Let’s take a look!
#5 Ibanez S Series
These are great affordable guitar cables. Ibanez is a known brand, that makes some affordable gear for any guitarist. These guitar cables come in 10 Ft, 20 Ft, and 100 Ft.
The reviews speak for themselves. They come in the shown “braided” version, and the plain black versions as well. And the price is killer!
#4 Harley Benton Guitar Cable
Harley Benton has been making a name for themselves lately, making everything under the sun when it comes to guitars. Harley Benton is the “In House” brand for Thomann Music, and most of their products are out of this world when it comes to budget, quality gear.
#3 Fender Pro Series
We all know Fender, right? Fender makes a variety of guitar cables that are very affordable, and high quality. Some are made to modern specs, while some are made to Custom Shop vintage specs.
The Pro/Deluxe series comes in tons of colors and sizes. You can also choose the angle of the plug. Some people prefer a right angle plug for their guitar, especially when it comes to semi-hollow bodies. Fender has you covered!
Fender cable cost a little bit more than most budget cables. They are not in the “expensive guitar cables” category by any means. But expect to pay a few more dollars per foot for Fender cables.
#2 Ernie Ball Music Cables
Ernie Ball is another brand that needs no introduction. They make some of the best strings on the market. The Ernie Ball cables are very rugged, and made out of premium materials. This makes them a little more expensive, but still in budget territory.
The Ernie Ball cables come in all kinds of cool neon colors and accent colors that you can match with your guitar. They also come in standard, boring black. So whatever your style, Ernie Ball has you covered, for a fair price.
#1 D’addario Guitar Cable Solutions
D’Addario has you covered, no matter what kind of guitar cable you want to use. Some of the cables they make venture into expensive guitar cables territory. The more pricey ones, are the ones that have a auto-cutoff on the cable connector. This allows you to unplug you instrument without it making a “BRRTTT” sound. These are called the “Circuit Breaker” cables.
But what is most impressive about D’addario and the Planet Waves series is the “kits” you can buy like seen in the picture. You can make any length of cable you need for building your pedalboard, or you can make just one cable and use the other parts for spares! The kit comes with all you need for years of use.
No solder experience is needed. These are plug and play. The directions are pretty clear as well. You just need a good pair of wire cutters.
If you play electric guitar, then having a guitar cable is essential. But to what end should the quality be? Expensive guitar cables make a lot of promises, but I can’t tell the difference.
At the end of the day, buy what you can afford. There’s no need to go out of your way to buy expensive accessories, especially since you are on a budget. I mean, who isn’t on a budget? Who doesn’t like a good deal?
Expensive guitar cables are probably nice to have if you re playing Madison Square Garden, or Wembley Arena next week. But if you are playing at a dive bar, or the local VFW… I don’t think anyone is going to care about your guitar cables!
Are Expensive Guitar Cables needed to record?
Not at all! Budget guitar cables can yield the same result.
Do I need Expensive Guitar cables to play live?
While expensive guitar cables are probably a little more reliable, if you keep a good eye on your live rig.. budget guitar cables will do just as good of a job.
What makes expensive guitar cables cost so much money?
The components that make up more expensive guitar cables are usually very premium materials. Like gold, silver, and other precious metals.
Do expensive guitar cables give you a better sound?
In most cases the difference is negligible to most ears.